Women Physicians on Frontier Bibliography

Query From Heather Munro Prescott prescott@ccsua.ctstateu.edu 17 Mar 1997

This is a follow-up to an earlier question about whether anyone on the list uses "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" in their women's history classes. I have been trying to figure out how many, if any, women physicians practiced on the western frontier. In particular, it would be good to have an example of one or two female physicians who practiced in such a capacity. I have looked through the major works on the history of women and medicine (e.g. _Sympathy and Science, _Hospital With a Heart_, _Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply_, etc.) but they are slanted heavily toward the industrial northeast. Does anyone have any suggestions as to where I might look? Thanks.


Carey, James C. "How the West was also Won", _Journal of the West_, April 1996, 81-4 (Susan La Flesch Picotte)

Cornell, Virginia _Doc Susie_(Manifest Pub., Carpinteria, CA 1991)

Davenport, Horace W. _Fifty Years of Medicine at the University of Michigan 1891-1941_

Doyle, Helen _Dr. Nellie_; _A Child Went Forth: the Autobiography of Dr. Helen McKnight_(NY, Gotham House, 1934)

Holmes, Kenneth L., ed _Covered Wagon Women, Diaries and Letters From the Western trails, 1840-1890_: 11 vol. series, ISBN # for series 0-87062-145-9 (try vols. 8-10)

Jeffery, Julie Roy _Frontier Women: The Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1880_(Hill & Wang, NY, 1979)

Loomis, F.A., ed. _As Long As Life_(diary of Mary Rowland)

Morantz-Sanchez, Gina _In Her Own Words: Oral Histories of Women Physicians_(1982); _Sympathy and Silence: Women Physicians In American Medicine (1985)_.

Myres, Sandra L. _Westering Women and the Frontier Experience, 1800-1915_(U of New Mexico Press, 1982)

Newell and Avery _Mormon Enigma_

Shikes, Robert H. M.D. _Rocky Mountain Medicine: Doctors, Drugs, & Disease in Early Colorado_

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke _Bright Eyes: The Story of Susette La Flesche, an Omaha Indian_(McGraw Hill, NY, 1974)

Other suggestions:

Check records at Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania; also Bozeman School of Medicine (Montana) and state health department records/state archives.

Date: Mon, 7 Apr 1997 16:12:45 -0600
From: Jo Ann McNamara

I realize that this particular thread has run out but at the time that the question of women as doctors on the frontier was raised, I took the liberty of referring it to Sister-L, a list devoted to the history and concerns of women religious. I was hoping that the powerful impact of the sisters in health care via the nursing and hospital administration professions would also yield a group of doctors I could recommend. Two members of the list responded in an enlightening way and I am taking the liberty (with their knowledge) of passing on the information.

Jo Ann McNamara

>From Peggy Thompson, Historian at Syracuse University: As to Sisters as Doctors. While I think Pat's account of her sister who was granted a kind of ex-officio medical credential is fascinating, it should be pointed out that Canon Law prohibited sister-doctors until the mid-1930s. [This, of course, is a modern prohibition, both because of the modernity of canonical recognition of *all* "active" sisters, and because the formal credentialing of physicians is also of recent origin.] This is because, in order to complete medical school, persons had to study subjects like obstetrics which the Vatican determined were a threat to sisters' vows of *chastity*!! [editorial aside: ARGH!] In the same way, sister-nurses were officially prohibited from working in maternity wards (though, of course, a lot of them did so, anyway), or from taking courses in obstetrical nursing.....

The single individual most reponsible for the change in policy, around 1935, was Anna Dengel, physician and founder of the Medical Mission Sisters. When that community first formed in the 1920s, it had to be designated a "pious union," rather than a congregation, because the women in it were fully-trained doctors and nurses (or intended to become so). She lobbied for years, and was finally successful in achieving the change. Good for Dr. Dengel!!! Cheerio, Peggy (msthomps@juno.com)

>From Pat Wittberg, SC,
Just wanted to let you all know--a Sister of Charity from my community (in Cincinnati) served in our hospital in New Mexico back when it was still a territory. She was a nurse or pharmacist, I believe, but did so much that the state legislature awarded her a MD back at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th. So she was the first woman doctor in the New Mexico territory, Sister Mary De Sales Leheney, SC. Our archivist is S. Judith Metz, SC, who can be reached at Archives, Sisters of Charity, 5900 Delhi Road, Mount St. Joseph, OH 45051. (phone: 513/347-4058)
Hope this helps.
Pat Wittberg

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